‘The toothache of tragedy’: Reportage of the Tiny Journalist

Janna Jihad Ayyad.

The Tiny Journalist becomes a statement to narrative and its power to guide us to the right questions. These questions move beyond the script followed by journalists who are the footmen of empire.”

Lama Abu Jamous is a nine-year-old girl currently reporting out of Gaza. Lama says she chose to document the genocide so that people could hear the voices of children above the sound of the bombing. Before Lama, Janna Ayyad was named the “Youngest Journalist in Palestine”.

Janna started reporting using her mother’s phone when she was seven. For Palestinian children surviving under abjection, childhood is not a given. Play is replaced by the responsibility to narrate. Palestinian kids are stripped of their right to act like children and put in conditions where they have to fill out press vests much larger than them.

Naomi Shihab Nye, a Palestinian-American poet, dedicates her 2019 book, The Tiny Journalist to Janna. Shihab-Nye’s father became a refugee from Jerusalem after the 1948 Nakba.

In the preface to this volume, Shihab-Nye names The Tiny Journalist a collective narrative, combining the poet’s own experiences with Janna’s. At this moment in time, the book also speaks to Lama Abu Jamous, the youngest journalist in Gaza. In a poem titled “The Old Journalist Talks to Janna,” the poet writes, 

“Maybe losers
get to be taken care of!

The truth is we were so wronged and so forgotten we had to become heroes to survive at all.

You speak the bell ringing, the wake-up call,
and I am sending you the last scraps of energy I had in my pockets when I died.”

Lama Abu Jamous.

Early in the book, the poet directs attention to the cold data-ism of Western journalists. Their questions rely solely on obtaining information. This information is then read against already established ideas of victimiser and victim. The tiny journalist, on the other hand, throws open the scope of questions. Shihab-Nye writes,

“The tiny journalist
is growing taller very quickly.
She’s adding breadth, depth, to every conversation,
asking different questions, not just
Who What When Where Why? but How long? How can it be?
What makes this seem right to you?”

Questions of morality and casualty interrupt the coldness of data. The Tiny Journalist becomes a statement to narrative and its power to guide us to the right questions. These questions move beyond the script followed by journalists who are the footmen of empire.

In a poem titled “In Northern Ireland, They Called It “The Troubles,””, the poet describes the desire for a different life:

“What do we call it?
The very endless nightmare? The toothache of tragedy?
I call it the life no one would choose.”

Naomi Shihab Nye’s The Tiny Journalist.

There is a refusal to reduce Palestinians to passive targets. Rather, the poet writes about their love for life as a force that physically runs through the community. Even in abjection and complete despair, one’s belonging to the land is affirmed and reaffirmed. Writing is one way to exercise a fondness for life. Shihab-Nye’s father writes a book about Palestine while getting dialysis. He sees this act as a practice intertwined with other acts of affirming Palestinian identity:

“Nurses and aides asked him What are you doing?

He said, planting a garden of almonds and figs Dipping sprigs of mint into glasses of steaming tea Breathing the damp stones of my old city

Pressing my mind into the soul of an olive tree”

In a commitment to carry on a tradition of joy, the poet writes, “we will teach our children, guard our skeins/ of blue and red thread,/ refusing to forget laughter even if the world forgets/ we ever have it.”

Instead of relying on recognition from anyone else, the poet identifies the capacity of the Palestinians to affirm their own life, “This was our superpower, retaining imagination in worst days.”

The Tiny Journalist is an invitation to rupture the captured imagination of hegemonic western journalism and enter into a collective capacity to affirm our own lives.


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